Multiracial Churches Attract Interracial Families

God has blessed our church over the past few years as we regularly have newcomers attend our worship services. We place a lot of emphasis on hospitality toward guests and when someone attends several times I try to sit schedule a coffee with them as an opportunity to get to know each other. During these conversations one of the questions I ask is, “What do you like about our church?”

This past week I had coffee with a new guest and she volunteered that although she was white her boyfriend was African-American. She told me that she had invited him many times to attend her previous congregation but he had no interest in being the only person with black skin in a large room. She went on to say that she is hopeful he will attend church with her now that she has found a congregation in which neither of them will stand out.

Earlier this year I met with another couple (African-American & Jamaican) who said they really liked our church because it reflected their broader experience in society. They wanted their children to grow up playing with children of other races. They also wanted their children to grow up with Christians of other races.

This is a growing trend.

At this point in our congregation’s life our leadership team is glaringly white. We only have one black deacon. But we do have an elder in an interracial marriage and an international minister [me] married to an American. While not a huge percentage, 10-15% of our married couples have interracial marriages.  Finding a church that not only accepts them, but supports their marriage and families is important to these couples.

This article provides some keen insight into the challenges biracial families face. If you take the time to read it, you’ll quickly see the importance for churches to provide safe places for these diverse families.

I’m not going to pretend that I’ve done a lot of reading or research on interracial marriages, but I did stumble across a USA Today article highlighting the growth in interracial marriages. According to the study it was reporting on, “In 2010, 15% of couples married outside their race or ethnicity.” In 1980 just 3.2% of all marriages in the US were interracial. Thirty years later the number has more than doubled to 8.4%.

How does this trend impact churches?

One area of impact will be classes related to marriage or parenting. This is more than newlywed couples discussing whether their families of origin drank full cream or skim milk. Interracial couples and parents need to discuss which elements of their ethnicity they will integrate into their married lives and pass on to their children.

  • Which holidays will your family celebrate?
  • Are there particular foods which posses a significance to you beyond taste?
  • How will you help your children settle upon their unique identity? (In the first article above the author describes herself as “a biracial, self-identifying, culturally & ethnically black American woman.”)
  • In your marriage, are you free to ask questions related to race? Will you accommodate each others learning?
  • If the married couple have different native languages, what languages do you want your children to learn? How will you teach them?

Communication about differences is super important for all couples, but interracial couples do face some distinct issues that require special attention. Multiracial churches will do their communities a favour by developing awareness and supporting the challenges interracial families face.

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Is It My Turn To Speak?

Jason Whitlock writes headlines before he writes articles. He likes to get people’s attention. As an African-American sports journalist he often leverages his heritage to write from a “black perspective”. He commonly uses sports events as a basis for social commentary.

With that said, I found one of his recent articles very interesting. You can read it HERE.

In this article he uses a tantrum thrown by Dallas Cowboys wide receiver, Dez Bryant, as a springboard to make the point that his behaviour was not a product of his race. “Dez Bryant’s inability to control his emotions is not a racial issue. It’s a family dysfunction issue.” He goes on to write,

If this country wants to really invest in young people, we must first invest in restoring the traditional family unit. As long as 68 percent of black women who have children are unwed, there are no cures for the social maladies preventing black progress.

Much of the high-profile lawlessness and dysfunction we see in professional sports are a direct result of the impact of Hurricane Illegitimacy. It is not a coincidence that Bryant consistently struggles with his emotions and decision-making and [Calvin] Johnson does not. Johnson did not grow up amid chaos. He and his sister were raised by their married parents, who worked as a railroad conductor and an educator.

Anyone familiar with my work realizes I do not shy away from discussing race. It’s an important, vital discussion. But so is the discussion of family. In many respects, the conversations go hand in hand. The man-made factors energizing Hurricane Illegitimacy unfairly and, in my opinion, intentionally impact the black and brown family structures. The drug war and mass incarceration are targeted at poor, dark-skin communities.

I find his article compelling reading.

As a minister in a multi-ethnic church I have members that fit this demographic. Young black women in the pews each week who experience the social pressure to start a family without a husband. To what extent is the pressure greater on these black women than the white women sitting next to them? Because they all face some pressure.

As a white minister in a multi-ethnic church it is difficult to know how to address the issue. Perhaps I’m mistaken, but I do not believe a white journalist (or preacher) could safely write the article that Whitlock did. God absolutely requires all preachers to promote purity and holiness. God wants all preachers to uphold his design for stable, loving marriages and families. Yet the question remains, “In a multi-ethnic church how do teachers address issues that have greater prevalence within a particular cultural community?”

Do we avoid the issues? Should we never mention that 68% of black women who have children are unwed? Or just teach other topics? Or just address it in private, maybe even segregated, forums?

Do we treat everyone the same? Should we pretend that every member, urban and suburban, faces the same pressures?

Do we just lay it out there and let the chips fall where they may? Of course no one would set out to be offensive, but should a white leader discuss this issue as sensitively as he can even though in all likelihood it will upset some?

Do we find a black leader to address the topic? Does the race of the speaker make a difference? Should this make a big difference?

Whitlock himself recognises that this is a difficult issue to discuss, “The normalization of illegitimacy is so pervasive in black America that people are afraid to publicly address its dangers and consequences out of fear of being labeled a sellout or a racist. It’s been so normalized that some people honestly don’t believe it’s a problem.

On the one hand it’s a family dysfunction problem. On the other hand, it’s a family dysfunction problem that’s more prevalent (not uniquely prevalent) within the black community. Can multi-ethnic churches address one issue without addressing the other?

Without being specific Whitlock demonstrates the difference between racial and cultural issues. He compares Dez Bryant and Calvin Johnson. They are both super-talented, young, black, wide receivers playing in the NFL. However, their family upbringing is so disparate that it’s not fair to compare their personalities just because they play the same position or share the same race. The culture (or sub-culture if you prefer) that influenced them is completely opposite.

Johnson was raised in an environment that valued citizenship and education. In contrast, it’s a miracle that Bryant avoided the life of crime and drug addiction to which his mother succumbed. All at once the issue is racial, but also cultural. Church leaders need to be vigilant not to assume that because people have one trait in common they have all traits in common. For the 68% of unwed mothers there’s also 32% who are married. Who are you speaking to?

Leading a multi-ethnic church requires knowing your members more than your statistics.